Monday, October 10, 2011

Cleanup, Aisle 7

Shopping at Walmart is an experience. Shall we go on to describe that experience? Yes, oh please yes.

I should probably start with calling it normal. Who doesn't shop at Walmart? Even in crazy flaky more-typically-liberal Austin, there are Walmarts, and people shop there.

The Big W managed to open a location in our hippie/yuppie area of Allendale/Crestview, and did so with the grudgingly admirable adaptability and persistence that it's known for: it barely shows from the street, is nestled among many locally-owned storefronts, and has thoughtfully planted trees and paths throughout the parking lot.

So it's a normal experience. I know few people who have never shopped there. I know several who have claimed they never would, only to be ultimately faced with a situation where the convenience of everything in one place or the appeal of extreme cheapness lured them through a blue-aproned greeter's sliding doors.

It was in fact this very combination of reasons that brought me to our neighborhood Wally World this past week. The menu Kelly and I had concocted for the upcoming baby shower called for all sorts of ingredients I wasn't used to buying. Where does one go to buy every form of white spreadable condiment known to man, large food storage containers, cornstarch, etc? That's right: Walmart.

My list was long, and the items slightly foreign to me, at least where purchasing is concerned. Yes, I'm a lazy shopper. Husband is delightfully thorough about grocery shopping when he's home, and I just can't be bothered to go when he's gone. I kid you not--I am happy to eat beans out of cans in his absence. And if I do muster up the strength for a run to HEB, I often return with yet more canned beans, perhaps spiced up with--gasp--canned tuna. Frozen peas if I'm feeling particularly festive, and yes, always baby carrots.

People comment on my food at the office, often in critical tones about how healthy it is. I let them, figuring it is nice to let my shopping apathy translate to setting some sort of good nutritional example. How are they to know that I eat boiled eggs because it's the height of my cooking prowess? Nay, fellow cube-dwellers, I bring these hard-boiled lumps of pre-chicken to combat the daily worship of the office's golden calf, the vending machine. Tempting purveyor of Fritos and scary pre-packaged cinnamon buns; it's unholy how it makes its contents look delicious in the middle of a long workday afternoon.

Anyway, so I went to Walmart because I needed a lot of stuff that I wasn't used to buying. I knew Walmart could deliver, and I was right. Mayo, cream cheese, white bread, sour cream, peanut butter...

Wait a minute. I stood in front of the peanut butter, doing that thing that so often turns me off of shopping: reading the label.

Wait just a dang Walmart minute. I thought they weren't allowed to hydrogenate oils anymore. I picked up another jar and waded into its long list of ingredients. A man strolled by and dropped some Peter Pan into his basket, unruffled by partial hydrogenation and seemingly happier for it.

Why couldn't I be like him? I had accumulated my cart of white strangeness thus far without a glitch. I stared at the Helmann's. Perhaps because I hadn't bothered to read the ingredients of the mayonnaise? I had assumed it was frightening but knew that I needed it, so into the cart it had gone without a label glance at all. Peanut butter, on the other hand, is something very familiar and dear to me, so I had unwittingly turned it around for a quick perusal of its makeup.

Well. With the backdrop of a basket of sliced white bread and sour cream, getting choosy about peanut butter felt silly. I had a full cart of low priced-items, and I was being offered the chance to cross everything off my baby shower list. This is what shopping at the W-M is all about, Shannon. Put your Muffy loafers away and slip on your Crocs, you chose to come here. This is normal; you are not, you lazy label-reading canned-bean-eater.

With a sigh (or maybe a shudder) I dropped the peanut butter into the cart. Onward to the meat!

Ruh roh.

Why did I consume all that silly media? The Omnivore's Dilemma..."Food, Inc"...."Supersize Me"...curses. The shrink-wrapped blobs of chicken and big reminded me of the aerial shots of the huge cow factories in the movies and lines of the book, along with all their gross details.

Again, no one else looked upset. I was so close to crossing everything off the list, too. Ugh. And really, would anyone at the shower even eat a mini-quiche made with duck eggs and humanely euthanized venison? Probably not, Muffy my dear.

A pound of ham was tossed into the basket, and as much of my soul was left in exchange.

Oh, don't be so dramatic. Shopping at Walmart is a normal experience, we have established that. But still, I felt like I needed to page someone to bring a mop and bucket to wipe up the drips of my feelings of ick. Maybe that was the feeling of totally casting Muffy aside and embracing my creamy, gooey, casein-ridden cart. Or maybe the rbst hormone really does require a little bit of your soul.

Whatever the case, I accomplished my goal of buying everything I needed in one place without having to take out a loan, though I think I had to leave a little bit of Shannon (or was it Muffy) behind, and surely someone at Walmart had to mop it up.

Undoubtedly I am the oddball here. I picture myself in a huge kitchen with a crisp linen apron creating gourmet loveliness, but the reality is not so Summer Home in the Hamptons.

It's Shannon microwaving peas and carrots and feeling proud of the addition of dill as she eats standing up in a pair of sweat pants. Other people are out there raising kids by working long hours and grocery shopping and creatively making ends meet. Shopping at Walmart is a normal experience, and you with the beans and the stand-up dinners and the reading of labels are weird. You may think that other people desire the Muffy experience of hormone-free organics the way you do, but in reality everyone is just trying to do the best they can with what they have.

Oops, don't get too serious, Shannon, this is a blog for Pete's sake. Just go back to boiled eggs and calling the can opener a cooking utensil. Brendon will be home soon. I can always go to Central Market and just stand next to the $10 olives for a few minutes to recharge my fancy feelings of Muffydom.